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Chapter 19: face to face.

Face to face at last were freedom and slavery. The final struggle between them for mastery had come. Narrow, indeed, was the issue that divided the combatants, slavery extension on the one side, and slavery restriction on the other, not total and immediate emancipation, but it was none the less vital and supreme to the two enemies. Back of the Southern demand for “More slave soil” stood a solid South, back of the Northern position, “No more slave soil” was rallying a fast uniting North. The political revolution, produced by the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, advanced apace through the free States from Maine to Michigan. A flood-tide of Northern resistance had suddenly risen against the slave-power.

Higher than anywhere else rose this flood-tide in Massachusetts. The judge who remanded Anthony Burns to slavery was removed from office, and a Personal Liberty Law, with provisions as bold as they were thorough, enacted for the protection of fugitive slaves. Mr. Garrison sat beside the President of the State Senate when that body voted to remove Judge Loring from his office. Such was Massachusetts's answer to the abrogation of the Missouri Compromise, and a triumphant slave-power. Its instant [357] effect was to accelerate in the South the action of the disunion working forces there, to hurry the inevitable moment when the two sections would rush together in a death-grapple within or without Webster's once glorious Union.

Indeed the foes had already closed in a frightful wrestle for the possession of Kansas. When the National Government adopted the popular sovereignty doctrine in solution of the Territorial problem between the two halves of the Union, freedom and slavery thereupon precipitated their forces upon the debatable land, and, for the first time, the men of the North and the men of the South came into actual physical collision in defence of their respective ideas and institutions. The possession of land is nine points of the law among Anglo-Saxons, and for this immense advantage both sides flung themselves into Kansas--the North by means of emigrant aid societies, the South by means of bands of Border ruffians under the direction of a United States Senator. It was distinctly understood and ordained in connection with the repeal of the compromise of 1820, that final possession of the Territories then thrown open to slave labor should be determined by the people inhabiting the same. In the contest for peopling Kansas the superior colonizing resources of the free States was presently made manifest. They, in any fair contest with ballots, had a majority of the polls, and were, therefore, able to vote slavery down. Worsted as the South clearly was in a show of heads, it threw itself back upon fraud and force to decide the issue in its favor. The cartridge-box took the place of the ballot-box in bleeding Kansas, and violence [358] and anarchy, as a consequence, reigned therein for the space of several years.

This is no place to depict those scenes of slavehold-ing outrages, supported as they were by a Northern President with Southern principles. The sight of them rapidly changed the pacific character of the free States. Many a peace man dropped his peace principles before this bloody duel between the civilization of the South and that of the North. Ministers and churches took up collections to send, not Bibles, but Sharp's rifles to their brethren in Kansas. The South had appealed to the sword, and the North had sternly accepted the challenge. War was in the air, and the Northern temper, without there being any general consciousness of it, was fast mounting to the war point in the thermometer of the passions, thanks to the perfidy and ruffianism of the slave-power in Congress and Kansas.

This trend and strong undertow of the nation toward a civil outbreak and commotion, though unnoted by the multitude, was yet, nevertheless, seen and felt by many thoughtful and far-seeing minds; and by no one more clearly than by T. W. Higginson, who at the twentieth anniversary of the Boston mob, discoursed thus on this head: “Mr. Phillips told us that on this day, twenty years ago, the military could not protect the meeting, because the guns were outside in the mob-or the men who should have carried them! There has been a time since when the men were on the outside and the guns too; and as surely as this earth turns on its axis, that time will come again! And it is for you, men, who hear me, to think what you will do when that time [359] comes; and it is for you, women, who hear me, to think what you will do, and what you are willing-I will not say, to consent that those you love should do, but what you are willing to urge them to do, and to send them from your homes, knowing that they will do it, whether they live or die.” The murderous assault upon Charles Sumner in the Senate Chamber at Washington by Preston S. Brooks, served to intensify the increasing belligerancy of the Northern temper, to deepen the spreading conviction that the irrepressible conflict would be settled not with the pen through any more fruitless compromises, but in Anglo-Saxon fashion by blood and iron.

Amid this general access of the fighting propensity, Garrison preserved the integrity of his nonresistant principles, his aversion to the use of physical force as an anti-slavery weapon. Men like Charles Stearns talked of shouldering their Sharp's rifles against the Border ruffians as they would against wild beasts. For himself, he could not class any of his fellow-creatures, however vicious and wicked, on the same level with wild beasts. Those wretches were, he granted, as bad and brutal as they were represented by the free State men of Kansas, but to him they were less blameworthy than were their employers and indorsers, the pro-slavery President and his Cabinet, pro-slavery Congressmen, and judges, and doctors of divinity, and editors. Incomparably guilty as these “colossal conspirators against the liberty, peace, happiness, and safety of the republic” were; and, though his moral indignation “against their treasonable course” burned like fire, he, nevertheless, wished them no harm. He shrank from the idea of [360] the physical collision of man with a brother man, and with him all mankind were brothers. No one is able to draw a sword or point a rifle at any member of the human family, “in a Christian state of mind.” He held to Jesus, who condemned violence, forbade the entertainment by his disciples of retaliatory feelings and the use of retaliatory weapons. When Jesus said “Love your enemies,” he did not mean, “Kill them if they go too far.”

Garrison's moral radicalism and political sagacity were never exhibited to better advantage than during these tremendous years of the crisis. He saw the sudden rise of a great political organization opposed to the farther extension of slavery to national territory. It was by no means a party after his heart, and for total and immediate emancipation, and the dissolution of the Union, yet he perceived that while this was true, it was, nevertheless, in its narrow purpose, battling against the slave-power, fighting the slave system, and to this extent was worthy of the commendation of Abolitionists. “It helps to disseminate no small amount of light and knowledge,” the reformer acutely observed, “in regard to the nature and workings of the slave system, being necessitated to do this to maintain its position ; and thus, for the time being, it is moulding public sentiment in the right direction, though with no purpose to aid us in the specific work we are striving to accomplish, namely, the dissolution of the Union, and the abolition of slavery throughout the land.” While bating no jot of his anti-slavery principles, he all the same put in practice the apostolic injunction to give credit to whom credit is due, by cordially commending what [361] he found worthy of commendation in the purpose and policy of the Republican party, and by urging a like conduct upon his followers. In the Presidential canvass of 1856 his sympathies went strongly with Fremont as against Buchanan and Fillmore, although his Abolition principles precluded him from voting for the Republican candidate or from urging his disciples to vote for him. But, barring this moral barrier, had he “a million votes to bestow” he “would cast them all for Fr6mont . . . not because he is an Abolitionist or a Disunionist . . . but because he is for the non-extension of slavery, in common with the great body of the people of the North, whose attachment to the Union amounts to idolatry.”

When the election was over the motto of the Liberator was still “No union with slaveholders,” and would have remained the same though Fremont instead of Buchanan had triumphed at the polls, until indeed the domination of the slave-power had ended, and the North and the National Constitution had been divorced from all criminal connection with slavery. The anti-slavery agitation for the dissolution of the Union went on with increased zeal. A State convention, called by T. W. Higginson and others, “to consider the practicability, probability, and expediency of a separation between the free and slave States, and to take such other measures as the condition of the times may require,” met at Worcester, Mass., January 15, 1857, with Frank W. Bird in the chair, and William Lloyd Garrison among the vice-presidents. The pioneer's speech on the occasion was a characteristic and noteworthy utterance. Its tone throughout was grave and argumentative. Here is a specimen [362] of it, and of the way in which he met the most serious objection to the Abolition movement for disunion :

The air is filled with objections to a movement of this kind. I am neither surprised nor disquieted at this. One of these is of a very singular nature, and it is gravely urged that it is conclusive against disunion. It is to this effect: We must remain in the Union because it would be inhuman in us to turn our backs upon millions of slaves in the Southern States, and to leave them to their fate! Men who have never been heard of in the anti-slavery ranks, or who are ever submitting to a compromise of principle, have their bowels wonderfully moved all at once with sympathy for the suffering slave! Even our esteemed friend, Theodore Parker (who deals in no cant) says, in his letter, that he cannot consent to cut himself off from the slave population. Now, we who are engaged in this movement claim to be equally concerned for the liberation of the slave. If we have not yet proved our willingness to suffer the loss of all things, rather than turn and flee, God knows that we are prepared to bear any new cross that He, in His Providence, may be disposed to lay upon us. For one, I make no parade of my anxiety for the deliverance of those in bondage; but I do say that it strikes me as remarkable that those who, for a quarter of a century, have borne the heat and burden of the day, should have the imputation cast upon them of intending to leave four millions of slaves in their chains, by seeking the overthrow of this Union! . . .

. . . I declare that this talk of leaving the slave to his fate is not a true representation of the case; and it indicates a strange dullness of comprehension [363] with regard to our position and purpose. What! Is it to forsake the slave when I cease to be the aider and abettor of his master? What! When the North is pressing down upon four millions of slaves like an avalanche, and we say to her, “ Take off that pressure --stand aside-give the slave a chance to regain his feet and assert his freedom!” is that turning our backs upon him? Here, for example, is a man engaged in highway robbery, and another man is acting as an accessory, without whose aid the robber cannot succeed. In saying to the accomplice. “Hands off! Don't aid the villain!” shall I be told that this is enabling the highwayman to rob with impunity? What an absurdity! Are we not trying to save the pockets of all travelers from being picked in seeking to break up all connection with highway robbery?

The convention projected a general convention of the free States to consider the subject, and “Resolved, That the sooner the separation takes place, the more peaceful it will be; but that peace or war is a secondary consideration in view of our present perils. Slavery must be conquered, peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must.” The projected general convention, owing to the monetary crisis of 1857, did not take place; but the extraordinary public excitement on the slavery question increased rather than diminished during the year. The increasing menace to the domination of the slave-power from this source had become so great that it was deemed prudent on the part of the upholders of that power to allay it by means of an authoritative utterance upon the vexed question of slavery in the national Territories from the highest judicial tribunal in the land. The Northern [364] respect for the opinion of the Supreme Court, the South and her allies in the free States counted upon as the vehicle of the quieting medicament. For, if the Missouri Compromise were pronounced by that Court unconstitutional and, therefore, ab initio, null and void, no wrong was done the North through its formal repeal by Congress. The act of abrogation, in this view, added nothing to the South which did not belong to it as well before as after its passage, detracted nothing from the North which was justly its due in the premises. In pursuance of this cunningly devised scheme the Supreme Court delivered itself of an opinion in the famous “Dred Scott case.” So abhorrent it was to the intelligence and moral sense of the free States, that it produced results altogether opposed to those designed by the men who invoked it. Instead of checking, the execrated judgment augmented enormously the existing excitement. Garrison's bitter taunt that “the Union is but another name for the iron reign of the slave-power,” was driven home to the North, by the Dred Scott decision, with the logic of another unanswerable fact. Confidence in the independence and impartiality of the Supreme Court was seriously shaken, and widespread suspicion struck root at the North touching the subserviency of that tribunal to the interests and designs of the slave-power.

The popular agitation at this fresh and alarming evidence of the purpose and power of the South upset the machinations of the schemers, swelled the numerical strength of the new Northern party opposed to the Territorial aggressions and pretensions of the slave section. So rapid was the growth of the Republican [365] party that the slave leaders anticipated its accession to power at the then next Presidential election. So certain were they in their forebodings of defeat that they set about in dead earnest to put their side of the divided house in order for the impending struggle for Southern independence. Military preparations went forward with a vengeance, arms and munitions of war which were the property of the General Government began to move southward, to Southern military depots and posts for the defence of the United States South, when at last the word “disunion” should be pronounced over the Republic. The Lincoln-Douglass debate augmented everywhere the excitement, fed the already mighty numbers of the new party. More and more the public consciousness and conviction were squaring with Mr. Lincoln's oracular words in respect that the Union could not “endure permanently half slave and half free.”

The darkness and tumult of the rising tempest were advancing apace, when suddenly there burst from the national firmanent the first warning peal of thunder, and over Virginia there sped the first bolt of the storm. John Brown with his brave little band, at Harper's Ferry, had struck for the freedom of the slave. Tired of words, the believer in blood and iron as a deliverer, had crossed from Pennsylvania into Virginia on the evening of October 16, 1859, and seized the United States Armory at Harper's Ferry. Although soon overpowered, captured, tried, and hanged for his pains by the slave-power, the martyr had builded better than he knew. For the blow struck by him then and there ended almost abruptly the period [366] of argument and ushered in the period of arms. The jar from that battle-ax at the roots of the slave system hurled together in a death struggle right and wrong, freedom and slavery, in the republic.

This attempt on the part of John Brown to liberate the slaves seemed to Garrison “misguided, wild, and apparently insane, though disinterested and wellintended.” On non-resistant grounds he deplored this use of the sword to effect emancipation, and condemned the leader. But, judging him according to the standard of Bunker Hill and the men of 1776, he did not doubt that Brown deserved “to be held in grateful and honorable remembrance to the latest posterity, by all those who glory in the deeds of a Wallace or Tell, a Washington or Warren.”

The raid of Brown and his subsequent execution, and their reception at the North revealed how vast was the revolution in public sentiment on the slavery question which had taken place there, since the murder of Lovejoy, eighteen years before. Lovejoy died defending the right of free speech and the liberty of the press, yet the Attorney-General of Massachusetts declared that “he died as the fool dieth.” Brown died in an invasion of a slave State, and in an effort to emancipate the slaves with a band of eighteen followers, and he was acclaimed, from one end of the free States to the other, hero and martyr. Mr. Garrison commenting on this immensely significant fact, acutely and justly observed that: “The sympathy and admiration now so widely felt for him, prove how marvelous has been the change affected in public opinion during the thirty years of moral agitation — a change so great indeed, that whereas, [367] ten years since, there were thousands who could not endure my lightest word of rebuke of the South, they can now easily swallow John Brown whole and his rifle into the bargain. In firing his gun, he has merely told us what time of day it is. It is high noon, thank God!”

But there is another circumstance hardly less significant of another change at the North even more momentous than the one just noted.

On December 2d, the day on which Brown was hung, solemn funeral observances were held throughout the North by Abolitionists. At the great meeting in Boston, held in Tremont Temple, and presided over by Samuel E. Sewall, Garrison inquired as to the number of non-resistants who were present. To this question there came a solitary reply. There was but one non-resistant beside himself in the hall. Where were his followers? Why had they forsaken their principles? The tide of Northern belligerency, which was everywhere rising to its flood, everywhere rushing and mounting to the tops of those dams which separate war and peace had swept away his followers, had caused them to forsake their principles. True to their Anglo-Saxon instinct, they had reverted to the more human, if less Christian method of cutting the Gordian knot of the republic with the sword.

The irresistible drift of the North toward the point where peace ends and war begins, which that solitary “I” at the John Brown meeting denoted, was still further indicated by what appeared not wholly unlike a change in Mr. Garrison's attitude on the same subject. His non-resistant position was the same, but [368] somehow his face seemed to turn warward too, with the rest of the nation, in the following passage taken from his address at that John Brown meeting:

Nevertheless, I am a non-resistant,

said he, speaking to that solitary confession of non-resistance principles, “and I not only desire, but have labored unremittingly to effect the peaceful abolition of slavery, by an appeal to the reason and conscience of the slaveholder; yet, as a peace man, an ultra peace man, I am prepared to say: Success to every slave insurrection at the South, and in every slave country. And I do not see how I compromise or stain my peace profession in making that declaration. Whenever there is a contest between the oppressed and the oppressor, the weapons being equal between the parties, God knows that my heart must be with the oppressed, and always against the oppressor. Therefore, whenever commenced, I cannot but wish success to all slave insurrections. . . . Rather than see men wearing their chains, in a cowardly and servile spirit, I would as an advocate of peace, much rather see them breaking the head of the tyrant with their chains. Give me, as a non-resistant, Bunker Hill, and Lexington, and Concord, rather than the cowardice and servility of a Southern slave plantation.”

The unmistakable signs of disintegration, the swift action of the national tragedy, the Charleston Convention, the disruption of the Democratic party, the last bond between the North and the South, filled the heart of the pioneer with solemn joy. “Only think of it!” he exulted at the anniversary of the American Anti-Slavery Society in New York, May 8,

1860; “only think of it! the party which has for so [369] many years cried out, ‘ There must be no agitation on this subject’ is now the most agitated of all the parties in the country. The party which declares that there ought not to be any sectionalism as against slavery, has now been sundered geographically, and on this very question! The party which had said, ‘ Let discussions cease forever,’ is busily engaged in the discussion, so that, possibly, the American Anti-Slavery Society might adjourn sine die, after we get through with our present meetings, and leave its work to be carried on in the other direction!” This was all true enough. The sections were at last sundered, and a day of wrath was rising dark and dreadful over “States dissevered, discordant, belligerent.”

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